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jQg                                                                                                                   B. POLEVOI
whether his folks had succeeded in getting away, and
what had become of them if they had not.
What he actually saw when he reached his native
village exceeded his worst expectations. He found neither
his house, nor his kin, nor Zhenya, nor the village itself.
From a half-daft old woman who, shuffling her feet as
if stepdancing, and mumbling to herself, was cooking
something at a stove among a heap of charred ruins, he
learned that when the Germans were approaching, the
school-teacher was so ill that the agronomist and his
daughters dared not take her away, nor go away and
leave her. The Germans found out that a member of the
Regional Soviet of Working People's Deputies and his
family had remained in the village. They seized the whole
family, hanged them that very night on a birch-tree
outside the house, and burnt the house down. The old
woman also told him that Zhenya had gone to the superior
officer to plead for the Gvozdev family, but the officer
tormented her for a long time to compel her to yield
herself to him. What actually happened the old woman
did not know, but next day the girl was carried out dead
from the house in which the officer had taken up his
quarters, and for two days her body lay on the river-
bank. Later, the Germans burnt the whole village down
because somebody had set fire to their fuel tanks that
were standing in the collective-farm stable. That had oc-
curred only five days before.
The old woman led Gvozdev to the charred remains of
his home and showed him the birch-tree. In his boyhood
his swing had hung from a stout branch of that tree. It
was withered now, and five rope ends hung from the
charred branch, swaying in the wind. Shuffling her feet
and mumbling a prayer to herself, the old woman led
Gvozdev to the river and showed him the spot where had
lain the body of the girl he had promised to write to
every day and had never found the time to do so. He
stood amid the rustling sedge for a while and then
returned to the forest where his men were waiting for
him. He did not say a word or shed a tear.
At the end of June, during General Konev's offensive,
Grigory Gvozdev and his men succeeded in breaking
through the German lines. In August he was given a new